In a lot of ways, millions of users have found Twitter as a useful tool. Take journalists, for example. According to a recent survey, 37 percent of journalists said they are on Twitter. It’s no longer a small tech company that is troubled by servers being down (keeping fingers crossed). Now your non-techie friends are using it. It’s referenced in commercials. It’s mainstream.
However, Twitter’s challenge is in helping new users see the social tool’s usefulness and getting them hooked. A big part of this is connecting new users with great people to follow, as recently attempted in Twitter’s homepage redesign. The early followers are crucial in determining whether a user gets hooked or not (a birdy from Twitter once told me). But for a lot of new users that are unfamiliar with the Twitterverse, it takes time to learn its etiquette.
So to help new and current users alike, here are a few things to ponder, many of which, of course, are debatable and are different depending on your purpose. The big take-away to consider is community. (The examples I use are not all necessarily bad ones, they are simply to illustrate the points). And this is by no means complete, and I would love your thoughts in the comments.
1. Thou Shalt Give Credit: RT, via, ht.
Giving credit is an important part of the Twitter community. It enables your followers see who you’re keeping up with, and exposes them to potentially great new tweeps to follow. However, there are multiple ways of giving credit, depending on how you are tweeting it. Also, as Alexander Howard pointed out that not giving credit and just copy and pasting is a violation of the terms of service.
- Retweet (Twitter’s function or RT): This is used if you want to repost something word for word that another person has already tweeted. Twitter has a built in function that gives the original poster credit, and so you don’t have to worry about the attribution. However, like many users, sometimes you want to put your own spin on the tweet and so you rewrite it. If you rewrite it, do not use the RT. I think most would assume it is word for word from the previous poster.
- Via: A lot of people will simply rewrite a tweet and put “via @lavrusik” at the end to give credit. The misuse here is that many people often are taking the tweet word-for-word and reposting it. Really, that’s a retweet. Via should be used if you have changed the tweet to your own liking.
- HT: Some people tweet things that they either “heard” or read somewhere and they want to give them credit. So they use HT (heard through or hat tip). It’s not as common, but I used it when someone points me to something I want to share in a conversation or chat that we had.
2. Thou Shalt Not Self Promote Excessively
It’s alright to promote something that you’re affiliated with every now and then, but if that’s all you’re posting then it becomes spammy. It goes back to the earlier point of taking part in the community, being resourceful, engaging people, etc. Sure, Twitter has been labeled as a micro-blog, but even with regular blogs people will only read you if you have something interesting to say or some insight or expertise to offer.
Of course, depending on your occupation or what you tweet some people may expect a certain extent of self-promotion. After all, if you’re a blogger or journalist for a specific news org, there’s a good chance that people follow you because of what you write. Some people will distinguish these tweets with a “New Post:” at the beginning. Again, not saying don’t do it at all, but just watch how often you’re doing it. If you over do it, you’ll drive people away. This example below is okay to do from Dan Schawbel, but the key is to not do it excessively.
3. Thou Shalt Link Appropriately
This might seem obvious, but a lot of times I see people that basically are citing some piece of information without linking to the article. If you’ve linked once to an article in a conversation, then you don’t have to do it every time. But remember that you are sharing with a network of folks, many of whom might want to get more information on the topic you’re tweeting about.
Sometimes it is unnecessary because you are tweeting something original or “reporting” a piece of information to your followers. In this case, there might not be a link to share. It’s okay to mix it up, but just stop to think if your followers can get more information on this topic and where.
4. Thou Shalt Respond to Your Followers
It is courteous to respond to those that send you direct messages or replies (unless it is spam, of course). I know that some people have a lot of followers and say they simply do not have time to respond to all the people that tweet them, but when you don’t respond it shows a lack of community interest. If you’re just blasting stuff out, then you’re no better than a spammer. Stop and talk to your community.
It reminds me of Craig from the “Twouble with Twitters” video who says that he doesn’t care about what others are tweeting, but that he does want others to care care about what he’s tweeting. Don’t be Craig. Respond to those that engage you, and you’ll find meaningful connections.
5. Thou Shalt be Considerate of Replying vs. DMing
There are simply some things that are meant for the public sphere and for the private sphere. To decide when to reply to someone or direct message them, stop and think, “Is this something that I want other people to know and would the person I am replying be okay with me messaging them something publicly?” It takes some common sense. If someone direct messaged you, don’t @ them publicly. Direct message them back.
Sure we don’t always have an option to direct message people (because they aren’t following you), but if you can’t direct message them and you want to contact them about something that should be private then don’t message them at all or find a separate way to contact them.
A common sense example: You meet with someone for a job interview and you @ reply them to thank them. Perhaps a private message would have been more appropriate considering many factors that could be involved (other candidates being interviewed, a current employee you may be replacing, etc.) Also, you should always consider what might be a message that is considered TMI.
6. Thou Shalt Make Clear Voice vs. Headline
This is similar to giving credit. If you are going to post an article and you are simply grabbing the headline and linking to it, then give it credit by putting it in quotes. Otherwise, make sure it is obvious what is the headline and what is your own opinion.
In general, if I am using the exact headline, I put it in quotes. Sometimes I make it clear what is my own take on something by putting it after the link and even in some cases distinguishing it with a “Me: Doesn’t make sense.” In a lot of ways this doesn’t matter and a lot of people on Twitter have a very distinct voice in everything they tweet, but that takes time. Someone who does this well (separating voice and attributing content) is journalism professor Jay Rosen:
7. Thou Shalt Follow Those Who Add Value
Don’t follow people just to get more followers. Ultimately, the more people you follow, the bigger the stream of information and the louder the noise – even with filtering tools and Twitter lists. The best filter against the noise is you, so make sure that who you follow adds value. I’ve battled this and have gotten in trouble for it, but I think that it’s okay to not follow your friends back (they just might hate for it) just because they are your friends. Sometimes your friends just might not be tweeting about what you find interesting (celebrity gossip, breakfast, we all have a list of things).
This is the difference between Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is for your friends, and Twitter is centered around people who you share common interests with. It’s a way for you to consume and share information. A way for you to connect with new like-minded people, and engage in heated debates and conversations. This is why Twitter calls the connections “followers” not “friends.” The difference is grand. This same concept applies to co-workers and acquaintances. My exception is my significant other.
8. Thou Shalt Not Pitch Inappropriately
Pitching is similar to self-promotion but deserves some extra attention. Twitter used to have a lot more spammer accounts that were responsible for only pitching products through replies to users. The site has become much better at fighting its spam problem, which is great. However, there are some companies or even individual accounts that do this from time to time. Users and company accounts should be careful because people can quickly become turned off.
I think that pitching can be effective when you are being resourceful to a person that might be looking for a specific product or a place to purchase a certain gadget, etc. But because a lot of this is done quickly without much strategy, users often feel spammed.
9. #Thou #Shalt #Not #Hashtag #Every #Word
Hashtags are meant to be helpful to other users who want to find tweets around a similar topic through Twitter Search. Some users, however, think that if they use a hashtag for every word they will get more exposure because their tweet will be more likely to show up in search. Considering that Twitter now showcases the popular tweets, this isn’t really true and I am unconvinced that it was ever true.
Also, it simply makes your tweets hard to read. Use hashtags when it makes sense (conference hashtag, breaking news event, etc.). It should still be easy for a reader to read what you’re saying. There are times, however, when someone is at an event and tweeting, but doesn’t use a hashtag when it could be useful for users.
10. Thou Shalt Not Retweet Themselves
Believe it or not, I’ve seen this done. People who actually retweet something they posted. I think it is okay to share something twice, but I would try to avoid and would space the two tweets out. Generally, people do this with self-promotion, which we need to be even more careful about. In general, if you are going to tweet something twice it should be because you are correcting an earlier tweet or got a link wrong. Don’t do it just because you want more clicks.
What Missing? What would you include?
Update: Suggestions From the Twitterverse:
1. Thou Shalt not pass on unverified information for fact. - Jay Rosen. This is how false information and reports often spread on Twitter.
2. Thou shalt not use auto direct messages – they are not personal! – Sue Llewellyn. This is a great point. It makes you seem like a robot and anything automated doesn’t exactly come of as being genuine.
3. Thou shalt fill out their profile and add an avatar. – Alex Howard. This might seem like common sense, but a lot of people still don’t have their whole profile filled out. This makes it harder for people to find you and connect with you. Also, having a filled out profile means more followers.
4. Thou shalt not use a Twitterfeed. – Alex Howard. Similar point as auto DMs. Also, sometimes words will get cut off and “assistance” will become “ass…” in your tweet because of the automation.
5. Thou shalt not use auto-follow tools. – Daniel Honigman. This ties into following those that add value. Automation tools will have you following bots.
6. Thou shalt know when 140 characters is just not enough. – Josh Stearns. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, sometimes the old-fashioned blog (or a Tumblog) may be the better option.
7. Thou shalt connect other social tools to the Twitter account carefully. – Chip Oglesby. Again, be careful with linking anything that is automated and floods your stream with updates from other services. You should have control over when you post your Foursquare checkins, for example.
8. “Don’t be obnoxious with name dropping, #ff sparingly and tell us why we should follow” that person. – Martin Beck. The most effective follow friday recommendations are those that explain why we should follow that person.
9. “Thou shalt put unedited streams live on the air and not expect dubious results.” – Scott Leadingham. This of course is more for news outlets.
10. Thou shalt not call yourself a “social media expert” just because you use Twitter. – Scott Leadingham. Guru is just as bad.
11. “Thou shalt not undervalue the listening aspect of social media – nothing says “don’t get it” like anchors, reporters, politicos, celebs, or any other brands on Twitter that chose to only follow a handful after being followed by thousands!” – Victor Hernandez. Sometimes we just need to stop to listen and observe social media. You’ll learn a lot.
12. Thou shalt be considerate of live tweeting events and consider other tools – Adam Glenn. There are better tools for covering something live, such as CoverItLive. Perhaps just tweeting a link to where you will be live blogging on an event and letting people decide, rather than flooding their stream.